Yes you read correctly. The DMV is an enjoyable experience compared with the brutal experience of dealing with social services. If you have never had to endure the humiliation, degradation, stupidity and WAITING of attempting to apply for social services consider yourself lucky. Not just lucky that you are not so broke as to have to consider social services as an option, but lucky to never have to endure the abuse doled out at social services.
Even when B was working his combined checks and my unemployment barely covers our rent, phone bills, credit cards, let alone having enough food for my pregnant hungry self….especially not food of any quality. The high cost of quality food (i.e. fresh food and the unavailability of organic/fresh produce in Southeast, DC is a WHOLE ‘nother post though). While WIC provides a nice supplement to my grocery budget it only allows for $10 worth of fruit/vegetables a month. That seems ridiculous as the purpose of WIC is to provide nutrition to pregnant and nursing women. But back to the subject. I decided, after months of debating, to swallow my pride and apply for assistance so I could get healthier food and especially since B lost his job it has become necessary.
I filed my claim for Medicaid through Mary’s Center so I didn’t have to go through the “bureaucracy” that is typical for social services. Unfortunately when I contacted them I found out that my case had been assigned to my local DHS. So the relatively painless process I went through to fill out my Medicaid just turned into a major ordeal. While I know that it is best to go to social services in the morning I thought me going in later would just result in a slightly longer wait. I have been battling insomnia, which has gotten significantly worse with unemployment and pregnancy, thus I usually am just falling asleep shortly before DHS opens at 7:30am.
I arrived with B reluctantly in tow, just in case they needed him there to present his information, around noon. I know, I know CLEARLY the wrong time to arrive. I was told to take a number (181), sign in and wait for my name or number to be called. I sat and waited half an hour before I even heard them call one number–72. ?!?!?! Looking around the room there were no more than 50 people in there and from what I could see there were 4 rows of cubicles, however the entire row visible to me was empty.
The room was filled with people who were obviously as disgruntled as I was quickly becoming. Women with screaming children who had waited too long, several other pregnant women who were suffering like me under the “no food/drink policy,” etc. and everyone in need of different types of services, however we were all grouped together. There were people who had sat and been waiting since 10am simply to recertify their expired benefits. No attempt was made to differentiate the groups of people there for various services; ones that required counseling and ones that simply required paperwork.
2 pm came and past and after 2 hours of waiting and having heard maybe 3 numbers called (that is me being generous) I go to the “information” desk and ask, “If there is any paperwork that I need to fill out can you give it to me now so I can expedite this whole process.” The man at the information desk rolls his eyes at me as if I am inconveniencing him from his conversation and then speaks slowly to me as if I were dumb, “Just sit and wait. Your number will be called when it’s called.” As I begin to walk back toward the cattle pen he calls me back, “Here fill these out to the best of your ability.” He hands me two stacks of papers…something I’m assuming I could have begun working on…during my previous 2 hours of waiting? “Pen?” I ask. He shrugs his shoulders and resumes his conversation. “How do you propose I fill this out without a pen?” He sighs once again and begins rifling through his desk and finds a pen, which he waves in my face and in a condescending tone says, “Bring this back. Y’all have been taking them all day and not returning them.”
Here I have been waiting nearly 2 and a half hours and I see workers, who I presume are social workers beginning to return from their lunch breaks. As I have brought all my information with me the forms are completed within 10-15 minutes, as I walk to go return the information man’s pen and forms he walks to the front of the waiting room, “Our computers went down. Y’all can wait around and see if they come back up or come back on Monday.” This starts a unanimous groaning and complaining from people who have been waiting as many as 5 hours. Cell phones come out and people start calling downtown. The situation has just escalated from ridiculous to absurd.
Nearly half of the room clears out, well this should make this process go faster right? “I just got off the phone with your supervisors downtown and they said all our claims can be processed manually!” a lady behind me yells out. The man pretends to ignore her outburst and walks back to his desk. Suddenly a surge of people emerge to the front of the building apparently motivated to mill around since they have an excuse to delay their work…wait, there are this many people working here yet less than 10 people have been helped in 3 hours?!?! Half an hour later we are informed “The system is back up we’ll see what we can do.” Apparently nothing, because 4 pm rolls around and the building closes at 4:30 while only 2 more people are helped.
4:15 and information man comes back to inform us of what we all knew since probably 2 pm was the inevitable outcome, “Y’all should have gotten here earlier. We’re not taking anyone else. Come back Monday. We open at 7:30.” I walk to the front desk to ask if there is any other way to go about this process. “Can I make an appointment? Is there any other more effective way that I can get this handled because I just wasted an entire day.” He shrugs me off, “Get here at 7:30. It’s a numbers game. If you want the help then you’ll be here. If not then really there’s nothing to be done.” It took all my restraint not to act like I had no sense and pull him across the desk to choke him out.
I kept my composure and left. Whether or not I will go back and endure the same degradation, rudeness, inefficiency (I could go on for days with adjectives, but I’ll spare you) I have yet to decide. While I understand that many social workers work very hard and as a former public school teacher (which in a high poverty school deals with similar issues of social welfare and justice) I understand to a certain extent some of the pressures social workers face. I am not writing this posting to disparage social workers by any means. In fact my sister is a social worker and I know how seriously she takes her job and the stress that she carries home with her on a daily basis.
HOWEVER, the organization I visited on South Capitol St SE, was entirely disorganized and inefficient. This branch (I can’t speak for any other branches as I have not been) needs a complete overhaul. I dread the thought of having to go back and be treated as if I am asking for a handout. I consider myself to be very proud and hard working and if I was not in the position I have found myself in I would not go. I am sure there are others who would fall into other categories that are stereotypically associated with needing the assistance of social services, but not everyone falls in that category and thus no one should be treated that way. I left feeling like I wasted my day and was humiliated by how I and my fellow struggling neighbors were treated, like we had nothing better to do than wait around, begging and praying to receive help from the all mighty agents of social services. Whether or not someone needs help does not make them inferior nor deem them unable to be afforded respect and dignity.